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January 16, 2014

In Our Opinion: Teachers deserve tax credit

The Daily Star

---- — If your child has ever brought home a craft project featuring construction paper, cotton balls, glitter or Elmer’s Glue, chances are their teacher was the one who paid for the supplies. 

It’s an open secret of public education that many teachers wind up spending hundreds of dollars of their own money on supplies for their classrooms. And up until recently, they were able to claim a $250 tax deduction without itemizing those expenses. 

The federal Educator Expense Deduction expired Dec. 31, along with 54 other tax breaks, after Congress failed to renew the package last year. 

“It almost seems like a game they play each year,” tax professional Paul Ahearn of Oneonta told The Daily Star. “Congress allows the tax breaks to expire and then usually renews them later on in the year. It makes planning ahead for taxes difficult.”

But to teachers, it’s no game. For many, the deduction already didn’t cover what they spent. 

Erin Mathewson, a third-grade teacher at Stamford Central School, said she spends between $400 and $500 each year on project materials and crafts for parents.

“This will definitely make teachers think twice about buying for their classrooms,” she said when told about the demise of the tax credit. 

Sure, the world of education can manage to go on with fewer cotton-ball-and-poster-paint craft projects. But those projects do serve a purpose. 

While the end product may look like something only a mother could love, the process of engaging in crafts has an educational value all its own. A 2001 study by Rockman et al., an independent educational research and consulting company, found that hands-on activities improved students’ performance on knowledge application tasks. 

And teachers aren’t just spending their money on glitter and glue sticks. Delaware Academy sixth-grade teacher Ro Avila said she often buys hygiene, clothing and food items for students who need them. 

South Kortright Central School Superintendent Patricia Norton-White called the expiration “one more negative message being directed toward teachers,” and we couldn’t agree more. But it’s also a symptom of an increasingly dysfunctional Congress, which continues to be paralyzed by partisan battles over even the most innocuous issues — such as this tax break. 

“How much money is really going to be saved by taking away this tax break?” Avila said. “Ending this deduction in such hard economic times is essentially closing a helpful tax loophole for the middle class.”

In a perfect world, teachers wouldn’t have to spend their own money for necessary supplies, or help children with necessities such as food and clothing. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And until we do, the least we can do is give these teachers some relief by renewing this tax credit.